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Family Is Suing Ford, Firestone Over 2001 Crash

Apr 26, 2003 | St. Petersburg Times The family of an Inverness man killed when a tire blew out and his Ford minivan flipped on Interstate 75 two years ago is suing Ford Motor Co. and the makers of Firestone tires.

According to the suit filed Thursday, Howard Stone, 66, was driving north when the right rear tire came apart on the 1992 Aerostar van he was driving, which flipped.

Stone was killed and two sons Joseph, then 10, and Shaun, then 11 were injured and airlifted to a Tampa hospital.

Investigators at the scene said the three were ejected from the vehicle and it appeared they were not wearing seat belts.

The lawsuit was filed in Pasco County circuit court by Coral Gables attorneys Lewis Eidson and Sean Cleary on behalf of Stone's widow, Ronnie.

The crash happened about 5 p.m. on July 2, 2001, a half mile south of the State Road 52 overpass in Pasco. Investigators reported at the time that a tire blew out, and the van veered into the median and flipped.

The tire that reportedly blew out was made by Dayton Tire, a company owned by the Bridgestone/Firestone company.

At the time of the crash, Firestone was seeing a hail of complaints from drivers saying the company's tires had failed and caused accidents, but only a handful involved Dayton tires.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported no recalls of 1992 Ford Aerostars for stability or handling problems.

In addition to the tire and auto makers, the suit also names the dealership that sold Stone the van Flammer Ford of Tarpon Springs and several Bridgestone/Firestone tire dealers, without specifying which might have sold him the tire. Named are Nick Nicholas Ford of Inverness, Countryside Towing & Auto Service of Inverness, City Tire of Inverness, Tony's Auto Clinic of Inverness and Affordable Muffler of Inverness.

In the suit, attorneys for Stone's family argue Bridgestone/Firestone didn't test its tires adequately and didn't include instructions on how to handle a vehicle when a tire blows out.

The suit also claims the Aerostar was prone to rollovers and wasn't tested.

In 2001, Bridgestone/Firestone settled a pending complaint with attorneys general from 53 states and territories, agreeing to spend $41.5-million and undergo manufacturing changes as part of a settlement over defective tires that led to hundreds of deaths nationwide.

The tiremaker agreed to pay $500,000 to each state and use $5-million for a consumer education campaign and reimburse the states $10-million in attorneys' fees.

The company also agreed to stop making some tires, change manufacturing procedures, undergo additional reviews and testify against former partner Ford Motor Co. in any future legal action brought by the states.

Ronnie Stone declined to comment Friday, and her attorneys did not return a telephone call. A Ford spokesman was unavailable Friday and a Dayton Tire spokesman did not return a call for comment.

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